Fatal direction


OOH, the lust: Dan Gallagher (Ashley Dowds) gets all hot and heavy with Alex Forrest (Jazzara Jaslyn). Photograph courtesy Montecasino.

REMEMBER 1987? IN the flicks, it was a year of big hair and sexy killers. Glenn Close took on Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction, a film that was to forever corrupt the basically benign one-night-stand with a right dousing of psychopathology at its most sinister. The stage version of this era-changing film is at the moment on stage at Montecasino, and sadly, it ain’t what you might expect.

It’s an easy story line: Nice married guy meets psychopath in a bar. She seduces him once, twice. And all hell breaks loose, destroying everything in its wake — children, bunnies, cars, the whole bang shoot. On a level, the story’s straight forward, but without the requisite electricity, it turns diabolical.

For one thing, Jazzara Jaslyn, the actress cast in the role of the scary Alex Forrest, the woman who takes Dan Gallagher (Ashley Dowds) by the libido and doesn’t let go till she’s wrought all the damage she means to, lacks the kind of sinister gravitas of the psychopath. What you get instead, is a rather shrill young woman whose hysteria buttons are pressed more potently than her manipulative force. She’s irritating more than horrifying.

And while good intentions have been invested in the paring of the work down to its bare bones, there are elements in its presentation which are so solemnly attempted and so cringeworthily achieved you have to consciously force yourself not to laugh. The silliest moments are in the sex acts themselves where a lumpen kind of choreography features, forcing the poor performers to mime orgasms. It’s so crudely directed that it jars everything, making you yearn for the days when sex on stage was taboo, and directors had to resort to creativity to convey nuance.

Indeed, the nuance department in this play seems to have been closed down at the outset. The text lacks the kind of electricity and drama that it warrants and even the notorious boiled bunny, which is what many former Fatal Attraction film audience members might remember, is sidestepped.

By and large, aside from the novel introduction of the idea of a cell phone as an alternate conversational space, this work is sanitised, wooden and miscast. Dowds in the pivotal male role does his best, representing a seriously nice guy who falls, hook, line and sinker into the maw of a monster, but in this work, he’s up against strange odds, two too young blond lasses (the wife, Beth, is played by Jenny Stead) and a harsh and inappropriate musical sound track, to say nothing of a very obnoxious back drop which just doesn’t work. It features an ambiguous melange of women’s faces against a venetian blinds kind of number. Only it’s so self-consciously mysterious and it’s so very very large, that it crushes the play from the get-go.

Hold on to your horrified and titillated memory of the film that redefined the idiom ‘fatal attraction’; this play skipped some time on the drawing board.

  • Fatal Attraction is written by James Dearden and directed by Paula Bangles. It is performed by Jo da Silva, Ashley Dowds, Jazzara Jaslyn, Jenny Stead and Alex Tops until May 6 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways. Call 011 511-1988 or visit www.pietertoerien.co.za

Constellations and the games people play

Janna Ramos-Violante and Ashley Dowds in Constellations. Photograph by Suzy Bernstein.

Janna Ramos-Violante and Ashley Dowds in Constellations. Photograph by Suzy Bernstein.

This play is about cosmology and bee hives; it’s also about life, loss, love and death; taking chances and letting go. It is about the games people play. But above all else, it is about celebrating the veteran directing chops of Alan Swerdlow, revealing him at his most intelligent best.

In Constellations, he directs two of this country’s arguably more underrated performers: Ashley Dowds, who never seems to age and who has recently served as an eminently watchable foil opposite the ilk of Brenda Sakellarides and Keren Tahor; and the charming Janna Ramos-Violante, who we’ve oft fallen in love with in her capacity as director and performer over the years.

Honoured as the London Standard Weekly newspaper’s play of the year in 2012, this quiet, wisely pared down work grapples with relationships with a rapier-like pen that casts its words in a curiously unusual rhythm, which quickly disabuses you of the promise of a soppy love story. It has that illusion of cynical lightness that director Sylvaine Strike achieved with Pregnant Pause in 2009, but also that touch of magic conveyed by Athena Mazarakis and Craig Morris in Attachments (1-6), a danced essay about love.

Neither dance piece nor pregnancy romp, Constellations is about the brain’s frontal lobe as the seat of language. It touches the terror of genetic inheritance. It is constructed through a series of exchanges, which in the vein of the technique of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett are repeated and re-used as a metaphor for the kinds of games people play in conversation and the things they say and say and say again, without ever saying what they mean.

The medical curve ball in the work’s denouement will grab you by your humanity. The tentative conversational choreography around marriage and life and death and communication are handled with a devastatingly subtle hand. Suddenly, you are forced to look at both Mary Ann (Ramos-Violante) and Roland (Dowds) in new and increasingly more sophisticated if not tragic lights. It’s not very different from watching a cast pebble make rings in a puddle.

But it is the light directorial hand, the presence of an off-pink cardigan, a bench and a trellis and the gentle diversion from logical chronology that doesn’t let any aspect of this tight work run away with you. It’s almost farcical in its repetition of lines, almost annoying in how the give and take rests on a few words re-articulated, but it never reaches farcical proportions, nor annoying ones. It holds fast onto the issues at hand. It contains all the elements: happiness, cruelty, confusion, pain and horror, but it enfolds its contents with a sympathetic yet acerbically sophisticated knowledge of the interface of humour with tragedy, leaving you at peace and sated. A beautiful, beautiful work.

  • Constellations by Nick Payne is directed by Alan Swerdlow and performed by Ashley Dowds and Janna Ramos-Violante, at The Studio, Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, until September 28.

Slab’s Pale Natives passes the test of time with distinction

The guys: Lionel Newton, James Cairns, Antony Coleman, Iain Paton and Ashley Dowds. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer.

The guys: Lionel Newton, James Cairns, Antony Coleman, Iain Paton and Ashley Dowds. Photograph by Ruphin Coudyzer.

  If you were white, young and English-speaking in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s in South African suburbia, you may’ve been privy to a particular lexicon of words like ‘tit’ (nice), ‘jislaaik’ (an expression of wonder), ‘kotch’ (vomit) and ‘boghouse’ (toilet). We were under cultural embargo. Apartheid was rife. The army had every young white man in its cross-hairs. And the culture of the time was tinctured by the bravado-filtered-hypocrisy specific to white South Africa in the run up to the first democratic elections in 1994. This alphabet of idiosyncratic values was embraced by playwright/performer Paul Slabolepszy; what a treat it is to see one of his classic dramas grace our stages again. Paying tribute to the late Bill Flynn who originally reprised the role of powder-blue-safari-suited Eddie, who whips up the comic element of the piece with astonishing savvy and is played now by James Cairns, this play is simply brilliant. It serves you a slice of nostalgia, rich with triggers to make you laugh, cry and remember, its sophisticated comic timing defines serious moments forever. Five guys in their mid-forties arrange a stag party. They were schoolmates 25 years ago. Each is a sensitively crafted, beautifully performed stereotype, which you recognise instinctively. Eddie is not overburdened, with his hilarious blend of stability, ineptitude and folly. He’s a rising damp specialist with a wife and kids. His earnest doggishness protects him from the nuanced bigger picture. Roux (Antony Coleman) is a loser to his fingertips, in his green shirt and striped wide tie. He’s living in his garden shed while his marriage crumbles. Ashley (Ashley Dowds) is the one who ‘made it’. Though he drives a flashy car, he has skeletons in his closet. With his combed, neatness, he’s the one you creditably picture as the boy who’d rather read than be in a rugby scrum. Many-married Dave (Iain Paton) is the foil for their party: it’s the eve of his third wedding. And then there’s Kyle (Lionel Newton). His teenaged swearing and fornicating credentials earned him his peers’ awe. Today, in a t-shirt under a dressy jacket, with his cigarette clasped between index finger and thumb, he reels from a life lived in the shadow of one-upmanship. Pale Natives is a coming of age story, not structurally very different from Cairns’ play ‘Dirt’. In crafting it, Slabolepszy held up a mirror to white South Africa on democracy’s cusp, rotten as it was with embedded racism and homophobia. He’s spiced heavily it with slang, an interface with local ad slogans and songs like Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, and others from the 1960s. In flaying open ordinary society, the play reveals poetry in the unlikeliest of situations. Not only about a stag party, it touches the core of life and death, success and failure. Armed with invectives against privilege, cigarette smoke and hard liquor, it never slips to sweetness, but runs with delicious fluidity that belies its two-hour length.

  • Pale Natives, written by Paul Slabolepszy and directed by Bobby Heaney is at the Market Theatre until May 11 (011)832-1641.
  • This review was first published by the SA Jewish Report: www.sajr.co.za